Fake News And The 2020 Presidential Election

Massive digital misinformation is becoming pervasive in online social media to the extent that it has been listed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as one of the main threats to our society. 

Facebook has recently removed two separate networks of fake accounts originating in Iran and Russia, for "engaging in foreign or government interference".  

The Russian operation, which Facebook linked to the country's military intelligence services, focused primarily on Ukraine and neighbouring countries. A small Iranian operation used accounts and personas on Facebook and Instagram to post content about US politics and the 2020 presidential election. 

Both operations attempted to directly contact politicians, public figures and journalists, a tactic used by several other information operations in the past. 

Rumor and false stories have probably been around as long as humans have lived in groups where power matters. Until the printing press was invented, news was usually transferred from person to person via word of mouth and some letters that might be read by the post delivery person.  The ability to have an impact on what people know is an asset that has been prized for many centuries.

Jonathan Swift complained about political fake news in 1710 in his essay “The Art of Political Lying.” He spoke about the damage that lies can do, whether ascribed to a particular author or anonymous: “False- hood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect.” Swift’s descriptions of fake news in politics in 1710 are remarkably similar to those of writers of the twenty- first century. 

Now many Americans and Europeans currently believe that the creation and spread of made-up news and information is causing significant harm to the nation and needs to be stopped.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging tech companies to take tougher action to battle fake news on the coronavirus.
and fake news, misinformation, and disinformation will also be major concerns in the 2020 presidential election. According to research by the Pew Research Center, half of American adults describe misinformation as a very big problem.Soon there will be another US presidential election and a question from the last election continues to be asked: ‘Did fake news help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House?’

Just weeks before the first votes of the 2020 presidential election, Americans report a high level of concern about how secure that election will be and worry about the perils of disinformation.

Fake news has now become a commonplace phrase for news that suggests conspiracy theories, incorrect ideas and speculation. The weaponisation of micro-targeting was pioneered in large part by the data scientists at Cambridge Analytica. The firm began as part of a nonpartisan military contractor that used digital psyops to target terrorist groups and drug cartels. 
In Pakistan, it worked to thwart jihadist recruitment efforts; in South America, it circulated disinformation to turn drug dealers against their bosses.

Cambridge Analytica was dissolved in 2018, shortly after its CEO was apparently caught on tape bragging about using bribery and sexual “honey traps” on behalf of clients. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke Mark Zuckerberg promised to do better, and rolled out a flurry of reforms. But then, last fall, he handed a major victory to lying politicians: Candidates, he said, would be allowed to continue running false ads on Facebook.

Recently US Congress and the FBI have been investigating whether fake news affected the 2016 Presidential Election and they believe that there was a lot of fake news with that intention. Their next question which is far harder to analysis is whether the fake news affected people’s votes. 

Facebook says that 126 million Americans were given Russian fake news stories that were aimed at affecting their opinions and changing their voting. But it wasn’t just the Russians buying Facebook use for fake news. Twenty of the most popular fake news stories were created by Americans which were opened and read by nearly 9 million people. The researchers asked the voters how much they believed in three statements, each of which, according to independent analysis, had been promoted by fake news but were actually false: 

  • that Hillary Clinton was in poor health due to a serious illness
  • that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump
  • that, during her time as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton approved weapon sales to Islamic jihadists 

Although most people didn’t think that these statements were true, there was a very strong link between the belief that they were true and the way people voted: “Among those who believed none of the three fake news stories, 89 percent cast ballots for Hillary Clinton in 2016; among those who believed one fake news item, this level of electoral support fell to 61 percent; but among those who had voted for Obama in 2012 and believed two or all three of these false assertions, only 17 percent voted for Clinton.”

It is argued by some analysts that if these percentages of voters, even 17% of former Obama supporters, had voted for Clinton in the states that went from a Blue to a Red in 2016, instead, it would have changed the outcome of the election.

Now the president’s re-election campaign is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar ad blitz aimed at shaping Americans’ understanding of the recently launched impeachment proceedings. Thousands of micro-targeted ads had flooded the Internet, portraying Trump as a heroic reformer cracking down on foreign corruption while Democrats plotted a coup. That this narrative bore little resemblance to reality seemed only to accelerate its spread. Right-wing websites amplified every claim. Pro-Trump forums teemed with conspiracy theories. 

Most experts assume that these regulations will be overhauled sometime after the 2020 election. For now, campaigns from both parties are hoovering up as many cellphone numbers as possible, and Parscale has said texting will be at the center of Trump’s reelection strategy.  The medium’s ability to reach voters is unparalleled: While robo-calls get sent to voicemail and email blasts get trapped in spam folders, peer-to-peer texting companies say that at least 90 percent of their messages are opened.

Forty-one percent of those surveyed by Marist Poll, have said they believed the US is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November's election safe and secure.

Americans do not blame journalists the most for creating made-up news and information, but put most responsibility on them to fix it. The public singles out two groups of people as the primary sources of made-up news: 

  • Political leaders
  • Activist groups. 

Close to six-in-ten US adults (57%) say political leaders and their staff create a lot of made-up news, and about half (53%) say the same thing of activist groups.

CITS:      LA Times:     The Atlantic:    Marist Poll:     Nieman Lab:     PEW Research:    

American Libraries Assoc:       BBC        BBC

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